Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Baseball Is The Perfect Game

My heart skips a beat every time I enter a ballpark and see the perfect symmetry of the infield diamond enveloped by the wide swath of green outfield grass.  I love the meandering pace of the game, the sport's connection to its own and this country's history, the contrasting forces of power and precision, the strategy and the statistics, and the fact that the game has room not only for the pure athleticism of Yoenis Cespedis but also for the phenomenon that is 43-year old, 285-pound Bartolo Colon. 

Part of the beauty of the game is how it has remained constant over time.  The basic rules are not much different from 100 years ago, the bases are still 90 feet apart, and the pitcher stands 60 feet, 6 inches from the hitter.  At the same time, each era has had its own unique issues and the game has changed to accommodate (sometimes at a criminally slow pace) social and technological changes -- often for good, sometimes for ill.

Instant replay was first used in Major League games in 2008, exclusively to review home runs.  New fangled ballparks with unusual angles and idiosyncratic seating made it much more difficult to discern with the naked eye when a ball was actually hit out of the park.  But the success of the original rule has led to the inevitable slippery slope -- expanded replay into many more areas of the game.   These rules which seek to eliminate human error are applied by human beings, resulting in ... plenty of human error.  More problematic is that exciting, close plays are immediately challenged, stopping play, upsetting the flow of the game at pivotal moments. 

Umpire Jim Joyce announced his retirement today.  He probably wished that instant replay was available on June 2, 2010, when he badly blew a call at first base, calling the runner safe on what should have been the third and final out of a perfect game pitched by Armando Galarraga.  Instant replay would have spared Joyce his place in infamy and would have elevated Galarraga to a place in history.

Still, I stand by my letter published in the New York Times on June 6, 2010:
It is unfortunate that Armando Galarraga was denied his moment in history because of a blown call.  But that is why it's called a "perfect game."  Such events are so rare because they rely not only on the pitcher's perfection, but also on the perfection from teammates, and yes, from umpires, too.  We should not lose sight of the fact that the imperfections are what make the game so perfect.


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